La Signora senza Camelie (Michelangelo Antonioni / Italy-France, 1953):

The Cinecittà is noticibly the same one from Visconti's Bellissima (and 8 1/2 later), only it's absolutely Michelangelo Antonioni's: The actress watches her debut unspool in the theater, and the projected image floats above her in the dark somberly, like a soul about to leave a body. The heroine is a shopgirl from Milan (Lucia Bosé) undergoing the Lana Turner treatment, the still center of a set swarming with garrulous producers and last-minute rewrites (the husband and wife in the film-within-a-film are suddenly made into lovers, "we'll fix it in voiceover"). Love scenes are verboten after she marries the filmmaker (Andrea Checchi), only Joan of Arc is good enough; production shuts down, the camera roams the emptying lot and finds the starlet's double, another young hopeful, crying in the corner. The lavish period drama is a disaster, Bosé is consoled by the consul (Ivan Desny), who starts an affair but is too weak to prove his love. An impeccable early scene has Antonioni defining mise-en-scène before your eyes -- a torrid kiss is rehearsed on a bed, the camera dollies in and the sketch becomes a fresco, with off-screen whispers acting as meta-reminders ("La cenzura! La cenzura!"). The creation of beauty -- that of the signora as well as the Wylerian deep-focus that sculpts Antonioni's images -- is the theme, the studios and premieres that make up the protagonist's new orbit don't so much create a dream world as mock its possibility (Bosé and Desny envision a future together amid ersatz columns and unfinished walls). The matinee idol (Alain Cuny) makes a distinction between just photographing beauty and distilling it, the starlet reads Pirandello but settles for Pyramid Slaves and adduces a Vicky Lester note by ultimately earning her tearful close-up. All of this came back to Antonioni in Identification of a Woman, decidedly. Cinematography by Enzo Serafin. With Gino Cervi, Monica Clay, and Anna Carena. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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